This past summer saw the production of local independent horror film Deer Crossing. Set in Philadelphia and the surrounding areas, it revolves around retired detective Derrick Stanswood (Christopher Mann) who’s called upon by a successful doctor about a case that was shelved eight years ago involving the doctor’s wife, Maggy Chancellor (Laura Lynn Cottrel), and their son, Cole. Chasing after loose ends in a backwards rural town, Derrick has no idea that Maggy has actually been held captive for the past eight years by farmer Lukas Walton who has been raising Cole as his son, introducing the youth into a wrongful world that no one should be a part of.
In addition to The Wire’s Christopher Mann and Laura Lynn Cottrel, the film also stars Ernie Hudson (Ghostbusters, The Crow), Doug Bradley (Hellraiser series), and Carmela Hayslett (Roxsy Tyler’s Carnival of Horrors). The intense 13-day shooting schedule wrapped September 25th with a planned release for Spring 2012. The teaser has drummed up a fair amount of controversy on YouTube over its content, but having read the full script, it can be said that there is much more here than mere shock-tactics. Deer Crossing is a dark journey across the damaged landscape of the human psyche. It’s about corruption and the destruction of innocence. Most of all, it’s a horror film with a lot of soul, made by a group of people with a relentless love for the medium.
The week before filming wrapped, I had the chance to sit down with writer/director Christian Jude Grillo (see my review of his first film, Booley) and hear what he had to say about Deer Crossing’s inception, what Philadelphia offers independent filmmakers, and the state of film itself.
LUCAS MANGUM: Tell me about Deer Crossing. What inspired the story? How did it come together?
CHRISTIAN JUDE GRILLO: Deer Crossing is a film based on the concept of the human monster. While writing the script, I wanted to make a movie that’s a little David Lynch and a little Deliverance. I always like Lynch’s edginess in particular. That seems to be lacking in movies today, at least at a Hollywood level.
CJG: I feel like horror films, especially, are too safe today. Take a film like Creature. It’s just like something that could have been made in the 50s. People know they’re not going to get too scared when they go to the movies, because the studios aren’t going to leave them damaged when they come out of the theater. While not horror, we need stuff like The Crying Game. They showed it, the ending, and it wasn’t just for shock value. It served the story. I want to shock the way that film did. Not the way others do now.
LM: In your opinion, what makes Philadelphia such a strong community for filmmakers?
CJG: I don’t think it’s so much the community. One casting agency, in particular, was pretty unhelpful. However, I think Philly does have a lot to offer as far as scenery, locations, and actors. There’s a lot of diversity.
CJG: One of my favorite directors is Tony Scott. His whole body of work is great. I’ve also always been inspired by Adrian Lynne. Not horror, but he always pushes the envelope with deep stories. Something about distrustful sexuality that drives me to his films.
LM: What’s the best advice you would offer an aspiring filmmaker?
CJG: The best advice I was ever given was from Tom Savini. I asked him, “how do you go about breaking in? Is there a formula?” He said, “No, there isn’t. You just go out and do it. Make films. Don’t let someone else lead the way for you. Now move along, you’re blocking my table [laughs].” I would offer that same advice to anyone.
CJG: Well, box office numbers are down. Even a lot of these big established superhero movies are bombing. I feel like hardly any films did well this summer. Hollywood needs to stop sinking millions into these types of films. People want originality and that’s what the independents offer. It’s going to be David that takes down Goliath.
LM: What is a little-known fact about you that your fans or readers of this website would like to know?
CJG: I never went to school for this. I don’t believe someone can teach you how to be creative. Oh yeah, and Roxsy Tyler is my girlfriend.
Deer Crossing is currently in post-production.